The rat trap election


Why is John Howard spending precious campaign time campaigning in his own seat? Is it possible that there’s a risk he could lose it? And does Malcolm Turnbull need Howard to stay away from Wentworth?


Howard’s unprecedented political spamming of Bennelong voters was the first sign he was worried (PM pays his son to dish up spam). Today he took a street walk in the shopping precinct of Eastwood, the solidly middle class suburb in his electorate where former Liberal Party president John Valder launched his Not Happy John! campaign to unseat Howard last month. (I spoke at the launch, along with Valder, Brian Deegan – the independent challenging Alexander Downer in Mayo, and “Merlin” of Big Brother fame. For Sunday’sfeature on the campaign, see Not happy, John.)

Howard got a rip roaring reception at Eastwood, much of ithostile, particularly over greenhouse policy and the war on Iraq. He also ran into Andrew Wilkie, the bloke who exposed his lies on Iraq before the war and who’s now standing for The Greens to call him to account.


Across the harbour, Malcolm Turnbull is continuing his double-game to win Wentworth for the Liberals, while Valder is calling on Peter King to take the plunge and join the Not Happy, John crowd (see the Wentworth page of the NHJ campaign website).

Even after I published Bondi Beach resident Jonathan Nolan’s unhappy experiences with Turnbull in Inside Wentworth: Turnbull accuses Webdiarist of ‘mischievous dishonesty’ Jonathan reckons the scam goes on:

Without wanting to flog a dead horse, the Turnbull campaign workers are still at it in Bondi. Two young Liberals in Turnbull T-shirts this morning on the corner of Hall Street and Campbell Parade in Bondi were handing out leaflets. The EXACT words from one of them after I said, “No thanks, I like Malcolm but I don’t want to vote for John Howard”?

“Well, don’t tell anyone, but Peter Costello in two years.”

I’m beginning to think I should be wired up and record this line of argument. Is it how they have been briefed to get votes?! (See also Labor’s Costello wedge keeps Wentworth on the move.)

Last night’s Turnbull’s team takes gloves off: King is ‘low life’, which published an email from the President of Turnbull’s Wentworth Liberal Party branch Jason Falinski, adds weight to my belief that Howard faces a similar phenomenon to that of Labor in 2001. Howard has ignored the beliefs and values of part of his core constuency for so long that his safe Liberal seats are Not Happy! We saw big swings to the Greens in safe inner city Labor seats in 2001, and the signs are we’re seeing the same thing this time on John Howard’s now disenfranchised small “l” Liberal flank.

Is the Liberal Party splitting during the election campaign? Here’s yesterday’s Freudian slip from former moderate Helen Coonan, a Wentworth resident who joined Howard’s right wing to win his favour and a ministry:

MELBOURNE, Sept 3 AAP – Communications Minister Helen Coonan warned today that dumped Liberal MP Peter King’s decision to run as an independent would damage the party’s chances of retaining the blue ribbon Sydney seat of Wentworth.

But Senator Coonan slipped up when asked about the election, accidentally endorsing Mr King rather than Liberal candidate Malcolm Turnbull, before correcting herself.

Senator Coonan, who lives in Wentworth, said she hoped Mr King’s nomination had not fatally derailed Mr Turnbull’s chances of election to parliament. “I think it’s disappointing that Peter King has decided to stand as an independent,” she told a luncheon in Melbourne.

“However, I actually live in the electorate of Wentworth and I will be out there supporting Peter King … Peter, er … Malcolm Turnbull as the endorsed Liberal candidate.”

Here’s an idea from Kathleen McIntyre in Armidale:

“Did you happen to see John Howard being thrown a packet of cheese by a man in the Tweed Shire yesterday? It was a hoot. I didn’t catch all he said to Howard, it happened so quickly, but he did say, “You have passed your use-by date”. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all disaffected Liberal voters sent their representatives a packet of cheese! They could start a “cheesed off” movement.”

And here’s a prediction from a bloke who worked on Labor’s campaign in the Cunningham byelection at which The Greens trounded Labor in a boilover in 2002 (see Green steel). He needs to remain anonymous:

I handed out how-to-vote-cards and scrutineered one of the largest booths in Cunningham. There was no animosity from the constituents. They were all very polite, so I thought we should be OK.

We went inside at the end of the day and our candidate wasn’t polling well, but at a glance I thought we should get over the line on preferences. Then they started counting preferences and they were falling in favour of The Greens Michael Organ at a rate of – and I’m not exaggerating – about six to one!

One of our current Federal MPs walked over and whispered to me, “Pardon the expression, but I think we’re f…ed”! We were. One of the Green scrutineers who used to be Labor even apologised to me because I think it looked like I was about to cry.

Where I draw the comparison is there were a lot of old party faithful and people who had voted Labor all there life who deserted us that day because they felt that the powers that be were deciding who was going to represent them in Canberra and they were not going to have a bar of it.

The same is playing out in Wentworth.

The common defence is that Peter King lost fair and square in a pre-selection to Malcolm Turnbull. The fact is that he lost to one of the worst examples of branch stacking that I have ever seen. It makes some of the ALP past branch stacks look like Kindergarten play. Peter King’s supporters will remember this, and the results from the pre-selection will tell you that he has quite a few.

The party apparatchiks were behind his demise right the way up to the Rodent. The membership will not appreciate this one little bit and will punish them accordingly. And remember, because Turnbull stacked the branches, a lot of people that voted for him will not be your long time hardcore branch members that go out on polling day and hand out how to votes. Those will largely belong to Peter King.

I think Turnbull will be seen as an opportunist and a Johnny-come-lately, given his background. He will certainly be seen as being foisted on the constituency as their local member, just like – you guessed it – Cunningham.

In Cunningham every candidate preferenced the Green above the Labor candidate. In Wentworth, it will be the same scenario. Every candidate will preference Peter King above Malcolm Turnbull.

Pardon my expression, but I think he’s f…ed!


Here’s your take on Jason Falinski’s email.

Bradley Wilkinson

First, this election is too close to call. Second the mood in the Scoresby Corridor in Melbourne is very dark toward the ALP, and it could not just go backwards in marginal Liberal seats like Deakin, Dunkley, Aston and La Trobe but could lose up to 4 seats – Chisholm, Holt, Isaacs, and Bruce.

Wentworth? King or Turnbull will win, but a side note. When Tony Blair won the 1997 British Election he won several Wentworth type seats, so Howard had better be careful. Also, every State ALP Government has seats they have never won before. Most are Small l Liberal by nature.

Finally, I must reject your claim at the “Not Happy John” rally that if Howard won then Democracy is dead. I have to say that what you said was Silly if not Stupid.


Trevor Snape in McMahons Point, North Sydney

Jason Falinski, president of the Point Piper branch of the Liberal Party, refers to Peter King’s “sudden discovery of morality” in relation to refugees and children in detention. It looks as if Jason accepts that the moral position is that adopted by Peter King.

Will Jason and other Liberals follow Peter King and denounce the government’s immorality? Of course Peter King’s recent “conversion” reeks of hypocrisy, but as they say, better late than never.

The Howard government is the most despicable government I have ever experienced. Decent people should be repulsed by the lies, distortions, deviousness and sniveling kowtowing to Bush. I lived in the UK under Maggie Thatcher for a few years (I am a Pom) and she is a paragon of virtue and decency compared to Howard. For the sake of a civilised, tolerant society, Howard and his supporters must be thrown out.


Chris Munson

Jason, I just read your epistle in Margo’s Webdiary. Congratulations – a home goal! I hope that many libs take your direction and speak about as you have. Congrats for supporting the “Little man”. But surely, despite your protestations of past silence, isn’t Peter King now speaking out when no others dare? Jason, why silence an honest man’s voice where this election is about the future and TRUST and honesty.

Shit Jason, get your brains into gear.


Kay Kan in Cheltenham, NSW

Margo, I was astounded to read that the president of the Wentworth branch of the Liberal Party and contributor to Turnbull’s campaign said of Peter King that “at the last election he was all too happy to campaign on the Children Overboard issue and gain entry into federal parliament, playing to the worst fears of the electorate”. This was not Peter King’s policy, it was John Howard’s, and many Liberals were happy to accept this strategy as a price for victory. Presumably so too was Jason Falinski.

Stoking fears about a particular group of people has a name – call it racism, xenophobia or whatever – and the Liberal Party was happy to engage in it. But you cannot use it just a little bit and pretend it isn’t really racism or xenophobia. That is like losing a little bit of one’s virginity, or a little bit of one’s independence, or being just a little bit pregnant.

Jason Falinski is also doing what he accuses Peter King of doing.


Tom Kelsey

So here we have another ‘piece of wasted space’ adopting Howard’s hostage taking’ of anybody who dares to believe that they can hold a view about issues. Falinski appears to be his very own piece of low life who, like the other sycophants, blindly obeys and therefore believes the absolutely deceitful utterances of our so-called Prime Minister. Get a life, Jason, and do something useful in this world!

Turnbull’s team takes gloves off: King is ‘low life’

Giraffe talk. Image by Webdiary artist Martin Davies

Prepare for the dirtiest possible campaign in Wentworth, and maximum embarrassment for John Howard as both candidates reject his refugee policy and his cover-up of the SIEV-X tragedy. Webdiarist Mary Dagmar Davies wrote this letter of congratulations to King on his decision to stand in Wentworth, and posted it on a human rights website:


Dear Peter,

I congratulate you on your decision and your courage. Your rights and the rights of the people of Wentworth have been disregarded by the very people you had loyally served.

I wish you well in Wentworth now you are free to stand for all that is decent. I was delighted to read of your interest in SIEVX and invite you to visit the JANNAH SIEV-X MEMORIAL and place a condolence message there.

I feel so sorry for Liberal voters and silenced candidates who have seen a great political party damaged so badly by one small and vengeful man.

John Valder, by recognising the value of Margo Kingston’s NOT HAPPY, JOHN!, has renewed my belief in and hope for Australia.


It chills me that John Howard who was Australian Father of the Year in 1997, could lock up children and put policies in place based on lies which ultimately caused a situation that brought about the death of so many innocents.

I wish you a great victory in Wentworth.



Boom! Jason Falinski, the president of Wentworth’s Point Piper Branch of the Liberal Party : the branch which sponsored Turnbull’s branch stack to topple King and who is helping Turnbull’s campaign – fired back this email to Mary:


As someone who has supported your cause for sometime and believed in much that you have written I cannot tell you how angry your below email makes me.

Peter King is nothing more than a low life of the highest order who has had three years to argue the case for refugees within the Liberal Party and more importantly change government policy – and what has he done? Nothing!

What has he got to show us for all his well-hidden, but undoubtedly sincere, concern? Nothing! He was far too interested in applying for seven parliamentary overseas trips this year alone.

Furthermore, at the last election he was all too happy to campaign on the Children Overboard issue and gain entry into federal parliament, playing to the worst fears of the electorate.

And now he has been rejected by the Liberal Party he wants us to believe that he was on our side all along. This low life will say and do anything to get a vote, and I am afraid that your email might well assist him in this despicable piece of behaviour.

If we are to be consistent, we should strongly advocate a vote against Peter King and his ilk. I apologise for being heated in this email, but as you can guess I feel very strongly about this particular man and his sudden discovery of morality.

Jason Falinski


So it looks like both Turnbull and King think there’s something very amiss in the SIEV-X saga, and in Liberal refugee policy, while John Howard pretends everything is hunky dory on both matters.

This is going to be seriously wild.

PS: After publishing this story, Jason rang back: “This is a personal view which in no way relates to the position of the Liberal Party. My essential message was about the consistency of refugee activists.”

Labor’s identity crisis

Noel Hadjimichael is Webdiary’s conservative columnist.


Politics is often about opportunity, payback or principle, or at least a combination of all three on any given issue, electorate or policy. What is happening to the campaigning steamroller that was going to propel the new prophets of technocratic and meritocracy craving Labor into power?

Reality has hit home.

The political spectrum is not an easy left to right sliding scale. You used to pick your issues or confirmed a set of values,then found a spot on the menu and cast your vote.

The old Cold War comfort of hawks and doves does not apply to this very different world. There is no guarantee that voters will stick to their past loyalties or reward “favoured sons” with their support. Past political events are sometimes crowded out by the power of new sensational news stories or media-exposed crusades.

A progressive and socially liberal minority cheered when Prime Minister Howard dealt with the harsh policy difficulties of guns and East Timor. A rural and regional conservative voting bloc used Hansonism to get back onto the political agenda. Stay at home mums welcomed the Coalition’s family assistance package that makes their social decision to work at home and not in the market economy at least a modest financial benefit.


What we have at the moment is a lopped-sided political landscape.

True conservative voters have a home within the Coalition’s ranks. Old style Labor is losing to fresh faced technocrats in designer suits and branch stacking lefties.

True liberals (social and economic freedom fighters) have a chance to play a role in a Liberal government. Labor might talk liberal but go weak at the knees on a range of issues like same sex unions, freedom from trade union vendettas or people smuggling.

True progressives have a haven in the Greens and those Democrats that survive this election.

The terrible truth is that Labor has got into a horrid identity crisis. What does it believe in? What can it deliver?

One day we have a tax policy coming out and the next we have a new tax burden (sorry levy) that will fix things up just right. We have State Labor governments in panic mode over sloppy relationships with business interests whilst workers and battlers get slammed.

If it is not a freeway that is not freeway in Melbourne, it is ambiguity over valued forests in Tasmania.

This election is not a referendum on John Howard, George Bush, Mark Latham or the ALP’s leader in waiting (the bloke always on ‘Lateline’). This election is about a package deal: which team or set of representatives will deliver the goods.

Voters may wish to feel good about symbolic issues like indigenous affairs or the homeless, but the vast majority of voters will want to secure the economic and social circumstances of their families and communities.

We are at war against terror, policy timidity and tacky old-fashioned big business/big union deal-making. An empty Labor chest of last minute policies and concessions will do little to boost our society. Australians are taking stock of what is going on overseas. They don’t like what they see.

Conservatives have little to gain from a Mark Latham victory. Small “l” liberals do not seek a return to the mates rates ideology of cosy deals between multinationals, union bosses and favoured protected industries. True progressives need to shake up the inner city localities that have died under Head Office Labor cronyism and stifled development controls.

Can Australians take the risk? I think not. Should Australians leap into the hands of the bold challenger? I doubt it.

We may well see a repeat of the 1980 election: Labor trying to be too many different things to many people. Those big homes in the suburbs with big mortgages are no longer the preserve of Sydney. A tacky cardboard contract is great theatre but poor leadership on legitimate claims that interest rates would be jeopardised.

This is no 1972 “Its Time” campaign and we don’t have a powerful white knight coming to our rescue. We can’t afford any more Orange Grove disasters and we don’t have the luxury of allowing a “government in waiting” the chance to destroy or curtail the national economy, security arrangements or regional development.

This election is about the future. Clear and present danger makes for a very poor incentive to ditch either the policy settings or the successful team.

Counting the rodents: week one

Glass box. Image by Webdiary artist Martin Davies

“Into the street the Piper stept,


Smiling first a little smile,

As if he knew what magic slept

In his quiet pipe the while;

Then, like a musical adept,

To blow the pipe his lips he wrinkled,

And green and blue his sharp eyes twinkled

Like a candle flame where salt is sprinkled;

And ere three shrill notes the pipe uttered,

You heard as if an army muttered;

And the muttering grew to a grumbling;

And the grumbling grew to a mighty rumbling;

And out of the houses the rats came tumbling:

Great rats, small rats, lean rats, brawny rats,

Brown rats, black rats, grey rats, tawny rats,

Grave old plodders, gay young friskers,

Fathers, mothers, uncles, cousins,

Cocking tails and pricking whiskers,

Families by tens and dozens,

Brothers, sisters, husbands, wives —

Followed the Piper for their lives.

From street to street he piped, advancing,

And step for step, they followed, dancing,

Until they came to the River Weser


Wherein all plunged and perished. (FromThe Pied Piper of Hamelin by Robert Browning)

What a week! Howard was so desperate to wipe the slate clean on his honesty that he chose to go a week early rather than face the music in Parliament. He must have been twitching with dismay as he AND Latham welcomed the athletes home and sent off our troops to Iraq. Latham looked pretty good, like an alternative Prime Minister, in fact. Yuk!

Howard’s masterstroke in coopting the “trust” theme by making it connect with interest rates (Trusting Howard) fell over almost immediately. Senior Queensland Liberal Russell Galt deposed, in a statutory declaration no less, that Howard’s chief defender on children overboard, Senator Brandis, had called Howard “a lying rodent” on children overboard and that “We’ve got to go off and cover his arse again on this” (Poor George).

Brandis issued a counter statutory declaration, but was later forced to admit that he routinely called Howard “the rodent” (… but rats, Lib MP really did call Howard a rodent).

Then the Queensland Liberals began proceedings to expel Galt. For lying, or for telling the truth? I mean, either Brandis or Galt is lying, right?

At the same time, a National Party candidate in Queensland spruiked by Howard, one Nick Withycombe, admitted that his claim that he had served in the SAS was, you guessed it, a lie (Doubts on candidate’s war deeds).

Withycombe appears in full uniform with Howard in his campaign photo, and, you guessed it, he entered politics because of his admiration for the PM.

On Wednesday, whistleblower Mike Scrafton revealed that Howard adviser Miles Jordana had been told very early on in the 2001 election campaign that there were strong doubts about the children overboard claim (Scrafton’s credibility over calls questioned). Naturally Howard won’t let Jordana give evidence. Scrafton also painted an ugly picture of systemic bullying of public servants who dared try to give frank and fearless advice (The catharsis of Mike Scrafton).

Then Brandis, on Howard’s orders, sought to destroy Scrafton using untested evidence based on Howard’s word (Brandis self-destructs to save Howard). I’ve never seen such brutalisation of an ordinary person by a Prime Minister who has refused to make himself accountable on the same matter.

By week’s end, “the rodent” tag was threatening to derail Howard’s campaign as Peter King finally announced he would take on Malcolm Turnbull in a battle royal for Wentworth, Sydney’s blue ribbon seat in the easternsuburbs. And what does King want? Kids out of detention. Aged care reform. And the protection of old growth forests!

Along the way, Liberal marginal seat holder Trish Worth defended her simile of asylum seekers with dogs and cats by spruiking her credentials on trying to get refugees out of detention (MP hounded for refugee quarantine analogy). Um, so when did you cross the floor on conscience, Trish? Conscience votes are dead under Howard’s remade Liberal Party. He killed them.

Worth’s fellow “moderate” Amanda Vanstone then waxed lyrical on George Negus’s program about her core principle as a Liberal: “You want everybody to be able to realise their full potential if they want to. Everybody having the equality of opportunity, accepting that equality the outcome is not going to happen.”

So did she resign from the ministry or publicly protest when Howard systemically destroyed that principle in health and education? No way.

And talk about desperate: Ruddock claimed sombrely that The Coalition was more reliable on national security! (Ruddock under fire for exploiting hostage crisis.) Oh yeah? Is this the government which took us to war on Iraq on a lie, without our consent, despite knowing that it would make Australia, and the world, less safe? The government which issued misleading advice on the safety of Bali before the bombings? The government whose rampant outsourcing has seen cleaners steal computers and other sensitive material from government offices and sensitive government information lost when a private contractor threw the computer tape in the bin?

The more Howard carries on with stuff he thinks will play in the marginals he needs to hold, the more he’ll disgust Liberals in his heartland. Fascinating.

Who won the week? Labor. Who’ll win the election? I still think Howard is favourite, mainly because, as he showed in spades this week, he has no limits when it comes to retaining power. None.

The risk? Australians will begin to see the skull beneath and skin and may conclude that Howard and his tactics are, well, unAustralian. If they do, he and his rats will have nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.

Rats in the ranks

Polly Bush is a Webdiary columnist.


Canberra has been infested by a vermin outbreak that threatens to mutate across the country as the federal election gets underway. Queensland Senator George Hamster Brandis first noticed the little-man turned gigantic-lying-rodent, but now denies sighting such a Kafka style transformation.

Senator Brandis, who keeps scurrying in his tax-payer funded rat wheel treadmill exercise gym, has since been branded a blind mouse.

While the main mouseketeer is said to be none other than Prime Miniature John Gopher Howard, rat experts are speculating whether all elected representatives have some form of lineage tracing back to the Order of Rodentia.

It is believed it is possible for elected representatives to morph into rats if suffering from ‘rankititis’ (not to be confused with a ‘pancreatitis’).

Sufferers of the disease are said to have sharp grinding teeth, are commonly dressed in suits and display symptoms of delusional acts of denial and deceit.


“Nobody told me” is a common rankititis expression according to internationally acclaimed rat experts, who universally agree “arse-covering” is another widespread rat trait.

Donning his Big Cat Hat, Opposition Leader Mark Mighty Mouse Latham wanted to add “arse-licking” to the list of rat qualities, but refused to say as much, preferring not to engage in any dirty squeaks as he continues to re-mould his whiskers.

Instead, Mighty Man Boobs Mouse Latham pledged a policy of rat extermination efforts if elected, smoking them out of their rat burrows, making sure they inhaled any wacky substances in an effort to clean up the rat halls of Canberra.

Riding a bicycle, Senator Bob Mickey Mouse Brown refused to comment on whether such rat extermination rounds would occur in conjunction with any ecstasy trials.

South Australian Liberal Trish Minnie Mouse Worth said if the reports of the rat outbreak are true, she hoped they would be subject to stricter quarantine laws than the poor little mice who fled traumatic overseas warrens. Later, she regretted referring to them in such a way.

Mike Scrafton, one of the principle Rat Hunters, not to be confused with Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin, undertook another rat interrogation session to swear Chief Rat Gopher Howard was told there were no poor little mice in the water.

In fact, there were no rodents on any boats as the only vermin of the land were living as elected representatives of the Coalition Ratbaggery Government.

Once again Chief Rat Gopher Howard avoided any rat discussions, instead sending Hamster Brandis to run on the treadmill again, where the Hamster told the critters of the land they could “trust” the Chief Rat.

To fend off any ratbaggery claims, Prime Miniature Gopher Howard spent part of his rat re-election campaign chewing on the troops returning from the Athens war, as well as waving off more athletes to the Iraqi Olympics, with Mighty Mouse Latham knawing close behind.

But whether the Chief Rat wins another term is a non issue for some – even in the Chief Rat’s own ranks.

Rat-in-Waiting Malcolm Danger Mouse Turnball allegedly told a voter in Jarlsworth that the rats in the ranks didn’t really matter, as Chief Rat Gopher Howard would be eradicated within two years of winning another piece of cheese.

However, Chief-Rat-To-Be Peter Ferret Costello has ruled out any future rat race off, preferring to instead highlight how Mighty Mouse Latham will lap up all the creme in the kitty.

And so the treadmill keeps on spinning …

The phoney war is over

Noel Hadjimicahel is a conservative Liberal who lives and works in Western Sydney, a crucial election battleground. He is a Webdiary columnist.


The announcement of the October federal poll will bring both commentators and voters back to reality. The real battle war over Australia’s political direction will revolve around regional security rather than refugees. Demands of family, enterprise and community will crowd out today’s hot issues.

Truth in government, a rescue of Medicare (the Labor States doing a great job with hospitals) or the promotion of individual choice (social versus economic) will recede from the public debate. This reflects the phoney election campaign we have encountered ever since Mark Latham had two good weeks in a row in Parliament.

So many commentators have got so excited. So many will be scratching their heads when the blowtorch of campaigning hits Labor hard. The Liberals in the political mainstream and the Greens on the left will put Labor in the spotlight for the values-free stance they have on so many issues.


It takes more than a Senate Committee probe or an Alexander Downer press interview to weaken a government that has delivered the three priorities of mainstream voters: security, sound economics and sustainable social policy.

Labor has done all it can to present itself as the fresh face of modern Australia. However, if they are such great policy makers or administrative wizards, why are Labor State Governments in most states facing big problems with voters? If it is not crime in the streets of Melbourne or planning bloopers worthy of the Keystone Cops in Sydney, it is a forests policy in Tasmania that offends just about everyone in the debate.

There is a limit to how many times the same viewers of late night television will accept the Kevin Rudd version of moderate Labor pragmatism before the antics of the other Shadow Ministers make the idea of Labor on the Treasury benches uncomfortable.

John Howard is not going to make the one third of committed Labor or hard-line Green voters happy. However, the vital voting blocs of young marrieds, outer suburban families, the Sea Change retirees and the independent small business operators have much to worry about with Labor.

It is not just Sydney mortgage belts that would suffer if interest rates were to rise under a spend-to-please Labor administration. Seventeen percent was bad enough when loans were about $100,000. Now with many loans of more than $250,000 even a four percent rise in rates would rob households of at least $200 a week after tax.

The Mark Latham idea about insiders and outsiders is very persuasive. However, the outer suburban voters are looking for the steady as she goes stability of a Howard fourth term than an experiment with the crash through aggression of the “new Whitlam”.

Retirees and lifestyle commuters appear fed up with a Labor agenda that is long on slogans and short on detail. Plebiscites on a Republic and maybe a fresh campaign to change the flag will do little to address the social or economic needs of those over 55.

Federal Labor just doesn’t get it on labour market reform. Small business will not hire if new taxes are levied on the current Superannuation levy or the hiring or firing of staff is hampered by red tape. Ten jobs in a strong economy are far better than a single unionised job in the public sector or the big end of town.

On the whole, the themes of security, sound economics and sustainable communities should emerge as the cornerstone of a make or break election. Federal Labor went for the high-risk leadership contender, and they are in for a very interesting time.

Inside Wentworth: Turnbull accuses Webdiarist of ‘mischievous dishonesty’

Blue Ribbon Wentworth is emerging as the epicentre of an intense debate over Liberal values in the campaign, and the second front in Howard’s attempt to regain power. Wentworth voters are being individually targeted by Labor’s David Patch and the warring Liberals, preselected candidate Malcolm Turnbull and the current member, moderate Peter King.


John Howard is worried that King will stand in Wentworth as an independent Liberal and that Turnbull will lose the seat. Tonight, reader reports on the action.

It’s hand to hand combat in Wentworth if the experience of Webdiarist Jonathan Nolan in Bondi Beach is any guide. In Labor’s Costello wedge keeps Wentworth on the move I published Jonathan’s first email:

I don’t want John Howard as PM, but apparently being in Wentworth I can still vote Liberal and not worry. A worker for Malcolm Turnbull (outside Bondi Beach Post Office last Saturday) told me that a vote for Turnbull is NOT a vote for Howard. I was amused and slightly baffled so they got Malcolm himself to speak to me. After confirming this point he added two more reasons to give him my anti-Howard vote: 1. Get the Liberals back in and you’ll only have Howard for two years, and 2. He was only one to go up against Howard on the war in Iraq. He added that the monarchists would be rubbing their hands in glee if he doesn’t get in. Now I know that definitely includes John Howard. (And yes, I am willing to take a lie detector test.)


Here’s what happened next:

Margo – I am no writer but following your publishing of my letter I feel emboldened to write an update. I’ve had my first close-up taste of the dishonesty that is politics today and I don’t like it.

Margo flatteringly called me a Webdiarist in her Wentworth piece, but until I had a chat with Malcolm Turnbull last Saturday and a chat with a friend who encouraged me to send a letter to the SMH on Monday, the political urge hadn’t really kicked in.

However, the urge changed to anger when I received a phone call from Malcolm accusing me of being ‘mischievous and dishonest’. I was in a business meeting at the time and shouldn’t have taken the call, and I offered to call him back. That made him angrier. ‘So you have time to write letters but no time to speak to me!’ he shouted. I put down the phone feeling a little threatened and shaken. (Note to new political self: Never send a political email with your telephone details.)

An email followed:

Dear Jonathan,

As I said to you on the phone a moment ago, your email to various media outlets “recounting” a conversation with me and a campaign worker on Saturday is mischievous and dishonest (and unbelievable for that matter).

The only matter I recall your seeking to discuss with me, and our discussing, was the republic. You had, in your conversation with my friend, apparently expressed concern that I had sold out on the republic by being part of the Liberal Party. I pointed out to you that I remained a republican, that I was very upfront about that on my website (for example) and that the Liberal Party was a broad church with many republicans in it. I explained my position on the republic in terms which I won’t repeat here but which are set out on my website.

Regards, Malcolm Turnbull

The strange thing about this is that I only obliquely mentioned the republic in my original letter (” monarchists would be rubbing their hands in glee”). But the matters I raised seem to have jogged his memory about the rest of our conversation. It sort of proves he remembers me and the conversation. The “Howard will be gone in two years” grew out of the republic conversation, a ploy to get my anti-Howard, pro-republic vote.

Anyway, if this is the way politics works, count me out. I am not dishonest. I stand by my report of what I heard from Malcolm’s mouth last Saturday but can do without the abuse that such honestly brings. Mischievous? You can judge. But if a campaign worker is using the phrase “A vote for Malcolm is not a vote for Howard” to get me to stop and chat on the street, I think voters would like to know.

In some very, very small way I know now how Mike Scrafton must feel. He has enormous courage.


A Webdiarist involved in Liberal polling in Wentworth who needs to remain anonymous

I worked as one of the telephone interviewees on the polls into Wentworth recently. I don’t live in Wentworth and knew a tad more than zilch about Turnbull or King before I worked on the poll.

In the recent Peter King -v- Malcolm Turnbull poll I probably would have interviewed between 300 and 400 voters in Wentworth. The gender split was pretty much 50/50.

Whoever was responsible for the poll – I suspect Turnbull – placed no emphasis on quality control – in particular no attention was paid to classifying responses evenly across all eligible voting age groups. The poll’s outcome explains John Howard’s letter to members of the Liberal Party in Wentworth.

Who has got time to shoot the breeze on the phone for a few minutes and answer some dumb questions about their pet hates? Mostly the oldies. The majority from both sexes I interviewed would have been 50 plus, and the majority of that group would have been 65 plus.

I estimate the total size of the sample at 4000, and believe that the responses I received would have been indicative of those received by all the other interviewers on the team, of which there were about ten.

The feel I got for the situation on the ground was that if Peter King ran as an independent liberal he would literally kill it. Amongst the liberal voters King was perceived as having a very strong community presence and respect. He seemed to be in people’s faces for all the right reasons. He seemed to be a very involved with the community at a grass roots level.

Amongst Liberal voters Turnbull is generally hated for whatever it was exactly that he did. Labor support in general was very strong, and there seemed to be a strong swing to Labor by traditional Liberal voters. The Greens also polled strongly – The Greens seem to have become the “let’s keep the bastards honest” party.


A worried Wentworth voter and Webdiarist who wants to be anonymous

Your opus on Wentworth has really got me stirred up and I need to vent some ‘stuff’. My concern is with what to do about the “Not Happy, John!” campaign as it relates to Wentworth. I’m not sure it’s really the best thing if King stands under the NHJ umbrella. And I know nothing about party politics.

1. What am I angry about?

I’m angry about the lying rat crashing the country, and on so many levels. All these have been gone over and over, except I’m sick of hearing about the good economic management stuff.

The guts of good economic reform was done by Keating and Hawke. What we really have is a Government that has specialised in keeping people mortgaged to the hilt – home, school fees, private health, investment properties, any bloody feel-good thing you can think of – prodded along with hand outs and bonuses all coming from cuts to the public sector and sales of assets. Good economics? Good manipulation, good politics. Howard has created a generation dependent on interest rate stability (and therefore him as the spin goes).

And I’m angry with all the liberals who sat on their hands watching it all happen, like when Costello bowed before Howard and didn’t walk for reconciliation. Howard’s power has been given to him by his gutless team, so now Liberals are saying “Look what he’s done, Oh dear if we just get rid of him we’ll be alright again”.

Too late I reckon. And that’s the problem I’ve got with King. He was there, he was one of them. The Valder NHJ campaign makes sense to me when true independents like Wilkie are standing, but King?

2. What am I most worried about?

I’m worried about Abbott. I’m worried about Howard making sure Abbott gets the baton. That’s where I worry about Wentworth with King under the NHJ banner. Up until now a NHJ label in Wentworth probably meant Labour/Green/other/ and Turnbull wherever down the ballot. If NHJ campaigning in Wentworth means King, then does this mean risking the seat going to a liberal in whatever clothes? If the Libs do get reelected with King as an independent, what can he do to influence the next leadership round? But if the Libs get back with Turnbull, then he may represent some moderating influence in the party, against Abbott I mean.

So if Wentworth goes Labor then probably Latham is in. If Howard wins, and Wentworth goes to King (with NHJ help) then what good will that be? Crossing the floor? Maybe, but no party room influence. If Howard wins with Turnbull, then maybe there’s a moderating influence in the party room.

All very hard for a NHJ devotee.

3. What do I want to happen?

Throw the whole lot of them out. Make them look in the mirror of these black years and regroup. I agree with Renata Kaldor. To that end I think the best outcome for Wentworth would be a Labor win, (it’s unlikely to be Green!!). Therefore should I stop NHJ campaigning here? Or am I missing something really simple?

Margo: As long as King and Labor’s David Patch swap preferences, Turnbull is gone and Wentworth makes the strong statement that it is “Not Happy, John!” If I lived in Wentworth I’d vote Greens 1 – thus giving them my $2 in public funding and denying it to the big two until they clean up the disclosure of their private donations. I’d vote Labor 2 and King 3.

Don’t worry about what to do until the electionears, when hopefully Newspoll or the SMH will do a quality poll on the seat. And remember, King’s big chance to win Wentworth is as a NHJ candidate, and if he’s game to do that he will have to criticise Howard’s regime from a true Liberal perspective. This would create national news, force Howard to properly answer his critics within the Party, and perhaps even alert Liberal voters in other safe seats that they too could make their vote count through a protest vote against Howard’s regime (see the NHJ Campaign website for more info).

Webdiary columnist and Liberal Party member Noel Hadjimichael reckons the maths go like this:

“The only way that Mr Turnbull might be defeated in an environment where Labor gets no more than 5% swing in its favour nationally is to have the following scenario played out:

1. Labor’s candidate remain under 28% in primary vote (not hard),

2. Peter King gathers at least 18% primary vote,

3. The Greens and other minor candidates total less than 18% preference, and

4. King gets preferences 70:30 over others to give King an additional 13% flow.

This would leave the final play as Turnbull 38%, Labor 27%, King 18%, Greens/others 17%. After Greens ands others distribute second preferences we’d get Turnbull (say 40%), Labor (say 29%) King (31%).

After Labor preferences which split 75:25 split in favour of King, King gets up on 52%.

It is only if King finishes second after all but Labor preferences have been distributed that Turnbull can be stopped.

If Labor comes in second, the overwhelming majority (65%) of King’s conservative small l liberal base will return to Turnbull.

Labor can’t win Wentworth but it can stop Turnbull. The Greens can’t win Wentworth but they can punish the idea of the millionaire candidate.

Turnbull’s primary vote would have to crash to less than 25% before he did not finish up as one of the two last standing after preferences. His best tactic would be to stand a “stooge” monarchist/rabid right wing candidate who would preference him. Will the Monarchist League’s P Benwell be a candidate?


Exchange of Webdiarist emails on the Liberal backlash theory

Paul Somerville to Justin Whelan

Phew! Just read Margo’s piece on web diary – not “Poor George” flagged on the main site page, but the longer piece “Labor’s Costello wedge keeps Wentworth on the move”. It’s fascinating to watch the number of opposing trends that seem to be playing concurrently in this campaign – in particular the different interests of disaffected Liberals in safe Liberal seats (over issues like refugees and the war in Iraq) alongside the marginal mortgage belt’s concerns about interest rates. Turnbull’s comments to the Bondi voter in Margo’s piece are amazing.

Would be cool if Peter King runs in Wentworth. Have you seen the ABC’s electorate by electorate breakdown?


Justin to Paul

I know, it’s all happening! I do doubt Margo’s excitement about disaffected Liberals leaving in droves though. I think a more realistic assessment suggests they will do what disaffected Labor voters do, and put someone else No.1 but then preference the Libs. Labor has already adjusted itself to this phenomenon and still takes us for granted because they know that not enough people will defect to the Greens – especially if they think the Greens might actually win- and that ultimately, as Gerard Henderson wrote yesterday, you HAVE to vote for either the Coalition or Labor.

Peter King could make it interesting in the way that independent National mayors like Tony Windsor are beating the pre-selected National Party candidates. But Howard is safe in Bennelong – it’s not that small “l” liberal – and elsewhere. So probably only a seat or two max, and Peter King would quite possibly preference Turnbull anyway, so if he gets 3rd (likely) Turnbull wins after all.

Everyone knows Howard lied to parliament over the Children Overboard Affair. Robert Mannepointed out that there is a gap in the Westminster convention here if the PM decides to just ride out the wave of criticism, telling us accountability rests on events on polling day. He figures people won’t care by the time the election comes around. And then when the election does arrive, he wants us to “focus on the future” as if accountability for the past is not a fundamental part of any election – remember 1996 anyone? Watch the Letters pages – plenty of people are buying it.

This is an election in which the public is being asked to rank truth and accountability in government alongside mortgage interest rates and Medicare and the war on terrorism. Howard is actually appealing to voter apathy and cynicism, saying “you can trust me on the only thing you really care about: your mortgage.”

The irony with all the “death of democracy” talk among the left is that the public may actually vote for their own disenfranchisement. Now there’s the real shades of fascism.


Harry Heidelberg, Webdiary’s expat Liberal columnist, in Sydney on holiday

If I was in Wentworth, I would vote for King in an instant. No hesitation, no equivocation. Never, ever Turnbull and all this crap machine stuff.

Someone has to be the liberal, and bugger the lot of them.

I hope there is a HUGE backlash and I don’t even care if Labor wins that seat. I really don’t. Imagine the Labor or Greens member for Wentworth wandering the streets of Double Bay past the Rollers and the miscellaneous German marques. Then John Howard would get his wish. Someone would be looking at a Rolls Royce and would say that’s cool, or something. We are living in VERY strange times.

The Liberal Party has taken its own constituency for granted for way too long – piss all over the core and butter up the marginals. Appalling, appalling, appalling.

Brandis self-destructs to save Howard

Sly defensive. Image by Webdiary artist Martin Davies

The mirror cracked from side to side.


The intense strain on the two people in Senate Committee room 2S1 today, who had – by very difficult choice – propped up the credibility of a cowardly and bullying Prime Minister for nearly three years, was palpable. Yet still Howard’s point man on children overboard, George Brandis, whose own credibility has been questioned this week, put the boot into the truth teller, Mike Scrafton.

Yesterday’s resumed children overboard inquiry produced the most dramatic, and painful, human drama I have seen in Parliament or on the stage.

Consider this.

Mike Scrafton has turned his life upside down to have his very belated say (for his own account of how he came to the decision, and the never-before-heard perspective of the ethical public servant, see The catharsis of Mike Scrafton).

There’s never been commercial sponsorship for a whistleblower. He’s lost his very precious anonymity and privacy, and he knew his life would be trawled over by the man whose image he threatened and that anything would be used, completely out of context if necessary, to destroy his reputation to save the reputation of John Howard.


Mike Scrafton, after correcting the record, signed a statutory declaration swearing on oath that he was telling the truth, took the most credible lie detector test available, and submitted himself to scrutiny by the people of Australia through the resumed Senate children overboard inquiry. He knew that would mean brutal cross examination by Howard’s de facto barrister George Brandis, the most brilliant legal mind in the Parliament.

Queensland Senator George Brandis had yesterday been accused by a former senior Liberal Party official in that state, by statutory declaration, of calling Howard a “lying rodent” in relation to the children overboard scandal, and of complaining:

We’ve got to go off and cover his arse again on this.”

Last night, Brandis countered this with his own statutory declaration denying that he had said these or similar words on the occasion alleged or at all, either in public or private.

The significance of signing a statutory declaration is that you swear an oath that what you are saying is true. If it is not, then criminal charges can be brought against you. You are putting your personal integrity on the line.

Brandis did this in the knowledge that many people in Parliament House and beyond know that he does call Howard “the rodent” privately.

Brandis deliberately sought to destroy Scrafton’s reputation through the use of untested, unsworn assertions of fact based on “evidence” he insisted be kept confidential and the source for which he refused to reveal. He also refused to take the stand to be questioned as a witness.

And who was that source? The Prime Minister. And who backed his version? The four Howard political staffers who signed statements backing Howard’s denial of Scrafton’s claim, but all of whom followed the PM’s lead in NOT signing statutory declarations and all of whom refused to appear before the committee. Their motivations are, quite simply, blindingly obvious.

Thus, to get cheap headlines designed to destroy the reputation of the man in the dock – on behalf of the man who refused to subject himself to the same scrutiny yet triumphantly beamed on national TV tonight that Brandis must be telling the truth because he WAS prepared to sign a statutory declaration – Brandis stooped to the following:

He claimed, feigning shock that he might not be believed, that:

1. Howard was in the Lodge at all times on the night when Scrafton testified he told him there was no truth in the children overboard claims;

2. There were only eight phones at the Lodge – two landlines, Mr and Mrs Howard’s mobiles, and the four mobiles of the Howard “team”;

3. Phone records he happened to have before him but which he steadfastly refused to release, or to say from whom he got them, showed that Howard made two phone calls, not three as recollected by Scrafton, and that Scrafton could not possibly have communicated his advice on the veracity of the children overboard claims in the 51 seconds Brandis said the second call took.

This sounds complicated, I know, and I’ll try to put the full transcript up tomorrow. But consider this: Howard fled to the polls at least a week earlier than he had planned to avoid Question Time in the House of Representatives, the now inaptly named “People’s House.” This is proved by tonight’s TV news showing both Howard and Latham welcoming home our Olympic athletes and sending off new troops to Iraq. What a perfect pre-election schedule for Howard!

Australian has a long campaign, quite simply, because John Howard needed to avoid accountability for misleading the Australian people in the last week of the 2001 election. And George Brandis is abetting him with no regard for the “little person”, Mike Scrafton, who he has chosen to attempt to unfairly destroy to protect a man he despises, John Howard.

You could see from George Brandis’s face that today’s performance in Senate Committee room 2S1 was destroying him.

The question is why? Watch this space.

The catharsis of Mike Scrafton

This is Mike Scrafton’s opening statement to the unthrown children inquiry this morning.


At the time that I drafted the letter that appeared in The Australian on 16 August I understood in general terms what the likely reactions might be and what sort of consequences might flow. Clearly, it was inevitable that the media would develop a significant level of interest and that the issue might develop an unpredictable life of its own. I am not so naive that I did not anticipate the possibility that I could be subjected, in the worst case, to attacks on my character, my credibility and my motives. I am not surprised that recently I have been the subject of imputations by senior ministers that I am politically motivated and seek to discredit the government in the lead up to an election. Nor was I really surprised by the re-emergence of the former head of the Prime Minister’s department to accuse me of being morally weak and untruthful.

I recall that, in the aftermath of the events of October and November 2001, the Senate inquiry, the media and the authors of various books saw my failure to speak up as indicative of my active political support for the coalition parties. Whereas now I am depicted as an Opposition stooge, then I was portrayed as part of a conspiracy to enhance the government’s election prospects.


These and other experiences have left me with no illusions about the strong tendency of those in politics to view the actions of all around them through a political prism. To some all actions appear political.

Nevertheless, I recognise that it is the democratic process that both generates this political culture and at the same provides the strength of our system. As a public servant I have strived to understand and be conscious of the political culture, and cognisant of the mandate and authority accorded to ministers through the democratic political process. As a public servant I have strived to maintain an apolitical stance in all my dealings with ministers, their advisers and with my colleagues.

Therefore, I can only repeat that my desire in this matter was to correct the public record. This is not done without context and I will address this subsequently.

I have not forensically gone through all the transcripts and reports in order to challenge the accounts given by others of what occurred during the frantic and confused period leading up to the last election. I have neither the resources nor the inclination to do this and only seek to ensure that my version of the conversations with the Prime Minister is known. While it was possible that the Prime Minister would concur with my account, this was not likely. I have availed myself of the limited range of options available to establish the veracity of my claims. I was prepared to repeat my version of the event in a statutory declaration and have that statement tested by polygraph. While the polygraph may not be considered totally infallible, no one has contested that the test was conducted in a professional and disinterested manner. The expert advice indicated that that the certainty that I was not being deceitful was in excess of 90 percent. There was not much more I could do. I never expected nor encouraged former colleagues to come forward and support me. I would not ask anyone else to undergo the intense media scrutiny to which I have been subjected and the attempts to discredit me. However, now three people have individually corroborated parts of my account and I am very grateful to them.

In the remainder of this opening statement I will address four matters:

 First, how I came to be in Minister Reith’s Office at the time of the “Children overboard” affair and the nature of my role.

 Second, the question of timing – that is, the reasons why I did not reveal what I knew about the “children overboard” incident at any time before the 16th of August this year;

 Third, a related matter, I will outline those factors that influenced the timing of my decision to write the letter to the editor; and

 Finally, I will outline to the best of my recollection the salient events of 7 November 2001 concerning the “children overboard” incident.

1. In the Minister’s Office

Prior to October 2000 I had been approached on a number of occasions by the then Minister for Defence John Moore with offers to join his staff. I declined because of the difficult relationship between his then chief of staff and senior military and civilian staff in Defence and because I had no taste for the inevitable political involvement.

Eventually, he offered me the chief of staff position. The offer was until the 2001 election and on the basis that, as he did not intend to seek re-election, there would be no political involvement. My role would be management of his office and the relationship with Defence and providing advice on matters of Defence policy and administration.

After consulting with the Secretary and CDF I agreed to a secondment under the Ministerial and Other Parliamentary Staff (MOPS) Act. When John Moore was replaced by Peter Reith as Defence Minister I agreed to take up the position of Senior Adviser-Defence for the new Minister on the same terms – no involvement in electoral politics and return to Defence following the next election.

These conditions were adhered to during my time in Parliament House. During the 2001 election campaign, I remained in the Canberra office managing the ongoing business of the “caretaker period” while Minister Reith and the political staffers, except for the chief of staff, relocated to Melbourne.

2. Failure to correct the record

Separate, but related and mutually reinforcing reasons, prevented me from telling Jennifer Bryant my account of the “children overboard” affair, and stopped me from appearing before the Senate inquiry. These were;

 A Cabinet decision directing that ministerial and prime ministerial staff and public servants serving in ministerial offices at the time were not to appear before the Senate. As a serving Commonwealth public servant such a significant and formal action by the government naturally carried great weight with me. The legal advice provided to me at the time was that unless compelled by the Senate to appear before the inquiry my situation was clear.

 I recall that the Bryant report had constrained and specific terms of reference that restricted her to examining advice provided by the public service to Ministers and did not canvas the actions of ministerial advisers operating under the MOPS Act. Despite claims that I lied to or misled Ms Bryant, the truth is that in even acknowledging that there were conversations that I was not prepared to discuss that had taken place between advisers and ministers, including the Prime Minister, went beyond what I believe were her terms of reference. The consternation and reaction from the Prime Minister’s staff, who I recall chased Ms Bryant to clarify what I meant, is some indication that the little that I had revealed was not welcome.

 Similarly, the terms of reference of MAJGEN Powell’s investigation did not cover advisers employed under the MOPS Act. However, Roger was well known to me professionally and I regarded him as a trusted colleague. He is an accomplished military officer with a good record of achievement. On a not to be repeated basis, I discussed a range of issues to provide him some background and context for his inquiry.

 The reality was that the Howard government had been re-elected for another term and as a senior public servant I would be required to work closely with Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries. My position would have been unworkable if, irrespective of the Cabinet decision, I had made full disclosure about my conversations with the Prime Minister on the evening of 7 November 2001. Apart from any personal enmity toward me that may have arisen in government ranks, I would not have been able to secure the trust and confidence essential to an effective relationship between public servants and ministers.

 No direct threats were ever made to me about any consequences for my career if I were to go against the Cabinet decision. The then Secretary of Defence and CDF both acted with sensitivity, integrity and understanding to my circumstances at the time of the Senate inquiry.

 However, the prevailing atmosphere in Defence, and in particular the methods and expectations of Max Moore-Wilton as Secretary PM&C and his close association with the Prime Minister, gave me every confidence that publicly casting doubts on the Prime Minister’s Press Club statements would eventually have had a negative professional impact.

3. Decision to reveal details of 7 November conversations with PM

Without any evidence there has been a degree of speculation about the motives behind the timing of my letter, with senior government ministers implying I have acted for political reasons. I have never belonged to a political party or participated in electoral politics. My reasons for acting when I did are more complex and varied and cover both the personal and professional dimensions of my life.

As indicated in my letter the final catalyst and determinant of the exact timing was the derogatory manner with which the 43 signatories to the letter to Prime Minister were dismissed and the way in which the issue they raised had been trivialised.

I have worked for and with some of the signatories and am well aware of the very significant contribution they have made collectively and singly to Australia’s security and advancing Australia’s national interests. For me the government’s response demeaned and devalued the efforts of past and serving public servants and military officers.

But more importantly the government sidestepped a critical issue, which is somewhat trivialised and distorted by the slogan “truth in government”.

I have been cleared for access to the most highly classified intelligence, and have been deeply involved in the development of strategic policy. I understand full well that governments cannot reveal all that they know for fear of giving away an important advantage or revealing the sources of intelligence. There are occasions when it is in the national interest to withhold information or to actually provide misinformation. The capacity to develop options and test competing advice in confidence is an essential element in the effective conduct of government business. Governments also act in the market place and commercial in-confidence, privacy, probity and competition issues also complicate the application of transparency and accountability principles.

However, in the context of the open letter I was of the view that a legitimate debate was being avoided over the potentially corrosive effect on good government of appearing to mislead for narrow electoral advantage or to justify the most important of policy decisions, such as committing to war.

The obligations and accountabilities of ministers, ministerial advisers, and public servants are a central element of that debate. The timing was also influenced by my decision to leave the Commonwealth public service and relocate to Melbourne. At the time of the letter of the forty three I was established in a new domestic relationship, had settled into a new job and purchased a new home.

Yet, it has been my intention since the Senate inquiry to correct the public record with respect to my position in the Minister’s Office and the impression conveyed in the media and various monographs of my complicity in a deliberate attempt to mislead the public before the last election.

Along with some of my colleagues, I have felt “tainted” by my involvement and disappointed in my own failure to act more courageously at the time. As the Public Service Commissioner has pointed out, this was not a time of which public servants can be proud. There is a cathartic aspect to my actions.

4. 7 October until the 2001 Election

The records of last inquiry show that I was involved in the web of actions that relate to the release of the photographs that purported to be of children thrown overboard from SIEV 4. In addition, they show that I was active in trying to establish the nature of the evidence available to support the fact that the children had be thrown overboard. If these matters remain of interest to the Senators I may be able to assist in completing the record. Late afternoon on 7 November 2001 Peter Reith called me on my mobile phone. He made no mention of any discussion with Air Marshal Angus Houston, but referred to the story in The Australian that morning on the children overboard matter. He said that he had spoken to the Prime Minister and that they wanted somebody they could trust go to Maritime Headquarters in Sydney and view the EOTS tape from the HMAS Adelaide.

On my way to dinner that evening I detoured to Maritime Headquarters and watched the tape in the company of Commodore Max Hancock, Chief of Staff to the Maritime Commander. After watching the relevant portion of the tape (about 15 minutes) twice, I returned the Minister’s call and advised him that it was at best inconclusive.

He said that he had to call the Prime Minister and would get back to me. Shortly after he rang again and said he had given my mobile number to the Prime Minister and that I could expect a call later that evening.

I continued on to dinner.

Later in the evening of 7 November 2001, I spoke to the Prime Minister by mobile phone on a number of occasions. My recollection is three times but it is possible that I have conflated the number of issues discussed with the number of calls.

In the course of those calls I recounted to him that:

 the tape was at best inconclusive as to whether there were any children in the water but certainly didn’t support the proposition that the event had occurred;

 that the photographs that had been released in early October were definitely of the sinking of the refugee boat on 8 October and not of any children being thrown into the water; and

 that no one in Defence that I had dealt with on the matter still believed any children were thrown overboard.

During the last conversation the Prime Minister asked me how it was that he had a report from the Office of National Assessments confirming the children overboard incident. I replied that I had gained the impression that that the report had as its source the public statements of the Minister for Immigration. When queried by him as to how this could be I suggested that question was best directed to Kim Jones, then the Director-General ONA.

The following morning Mr O’Leary from the Prime Minister’s Office rang on my mobile phone as I was driving back to Canberra and asked that I arrange for copies of the EOTS tape be made available for the media in Canberra. This was the reason that I rang Ms McKenry and we discussed my conversation with the Prime Minister the previous evening.

Later that day I was surprised on reading a transcript of the Prime Minister’s statements at the Press Club lunch that he had used the ONA report in such and unqualified manner and did not correct the record with respect to the truth of the claimed “children overboard” incident.

In this opening statement I have restricted my comments primarily to the events of 7 November. I am prepared to respond to questions on any other matter in which I was involved.

Mike Scrafton, 1 September 2004

Howard’s begging letter to Liberals in Wentworth

This is the letter sent to all members of the Liberal Party in Wentworth immediately after the election was called. The bold is Howard’s. For the state of play in this blue-ribbon seat – and the real reason Howard is worried – see Labor’s Costello wedge keeps Wentworth on the move. The current Liberal MP for Wentworth, Peter King, is expected to announce that he will stand as an independent within a week.


Dear Mr and Mrs …

I am writing to you because I have a very real concern that the seat of Wentworth could be won by the Labor Party at the next election.

Wentworth is NOT the safe Liberal seat that many people imagine. There is the added complication that Peter King could also run as an independent, which would split the Liberal vote and further help the Labor Party.

This next election will be very close. We can never take anything for granted.


The strength of our economy determines the performance of superannuation investments that drive retirement incomes, the payment of pensions and other allowances that many Australians rely on, the quality of health, education and aged care services our family can access and how we address issues like water, to make our continent more sustainable.

The Coalition Government I lead has established a strong track record of responsible economic management that has delivered very real economic benefits for Australia.

The inexperience and unproven nature of our Labor opponents presents a very real risk to our nation’s economic future.

Only by supporting the Liberal’s endorsed candidate, Malcolm Turnbull, can you be sure of acting to re-elect a Coalition Government that will keep our economy strong.

Malcolm Turnbull is an experienced, influential and passionate advocate on many public issues. He will make a strong contribution to my team, the Parliament and as your local Wentworth MP.

I appreciate there will be some who will have strong opinions about the Liberal pre-selection in Wentworth. However, as a long term member of the Liberal Party, I believe we must always move on and support our democratically selected candidate, it is the only way we can re-elect a Coalition Government.

So I encourage us all to focus our attention on the issues that will determine our economic future at this election. Only this way can we ensure that we do what we can to continue to enjoy the quality of life that our strong economy has made possible.

Yours sincerely

(Personally signed)

Hon. John Howard MP

Prime Minister

PS. Please find attached Malcolm Turnbull’s most recent newsletter for your information, outlining his work on local issues in Wentworth.


Thank you to SMH researcher LiZ Bowron for transcribing this letter.